‘What are you writing?’ my grandad said.
‘Heartbreak,’ I replied.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Why can’t you write something nice?’
And then the person on the other side of me tries to peer at what I’m writing.
I get agitated and close the book.
I move away.
These lines aren’t for you, stranger.
The same waiting room, every four weeks. We’d sit together, and he’d get me to help him with the crossword. He’d ponder 4 across, I would scribble in the notebook. We’d wait, and wait…
The notebook was destroyed. It was filled with every thought I had about The Boy until it was full and then I got rid of it because I couldn’t handle the idea of him knowing how powerful my thoughts were. He might have rejected me – or worse, he might have fallen in love with me. That wouldn’t do. So I got him out of my head and all my frantic words had a viking funeral. A happy ending.
I had to write it all down, though. I had too much time to kill – too much time just sitting around waiting – and it’s never a good idea to let someone rent out space in your psychic atelier. They start messing around. Redecorating. Shifting the furniture. Putting their own pictures up. Nonsense like that. I had to evict him and throw his lyrics out with him. Burn and start over.
We’d become too similar.
(Who would have thought ten years would turn us into this?)
So my grandad and I sat in the waiting room of the eye clinic. They had books on the table and leaflets in holders on the wall, all with print so small that he would have had to read them using my eyes. But that was the deal I’d struck. He got to borrow my eyes and I got to be invisible for a while.
But then it’s not an eye clinic, it’s Accident and Emergency and the accident is waiting in the foyer for an update on the emergency and she doesn’t know where he is and her shoes are dirty and she keeps playing one song over and over…
I wasn’t really all there for that one. I was aware of myself existing, somewhere. That’s all.
I wasn’t all there in the waiting room when I was holding a teatowel around my arm, either. Wide-eyed, clenching teeth to concentrate on keeping the terror from leaking out of the barricade I’d built with knives in order to keep… myself in? the world out?
I’m surprised I’ve never sat in the waiting room of a jaw doctor. Pills and coke and speed and starvation and stress all give me recurring transient lockjaw. It’s a wonder my teeth aren’t completely fucked.
My teeth are wonky. I hate my teeth. Apparently I have a nice smile but I can’t cope with yet another flaw. So I don’t smile much at first, until I know you’re not going to hold it against me. They’re not all crossed over, I just have prominent canines. But still…
I have this problem because my mum stopped taking me to the dentist. I react badly to nitrous oxide – the anaesthetic kicks in too slowly, so I have time to panic and fight it off – and I freaked out twice when I was young; running from the dentist’s chair, crying and screaming. My mum was humiliated; said I wasn’t going back. I developed a horrible phobia.
I got bad cavities. I used to sit up all night, wailing in agony. My grandad would cuddle me and rub my gums.
When I was 13, I finally went. My stepmum found somewhere who would do the procedure under general anaesthetic. I went under. I woke up four teeth lighter.
A few weeks later, I could still feel a shard of tooth. I went back to my dentist and she felt around the fresh gap at the back of my mouth. ‘Do I need to make an appointment with the other clinic again?’ I asked. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I just took it out.’
I stopped being scared after that.
I had to have a root canal when I was looking after my grandad. I remember being drenched in sweat from the ephedrine while I sat in the chilly waiting room that smelled of horrible chemicals. You know the smell. The most painful thing about the procedure itself was that I was too skinny and the dentist used my sternum as an elbow rest. ‘You need to watch the sun with your complexion. You’ll get cancer,’ he said. ‘Mmmmppphhhnnnpph,’ I replied.
The last time I went to the dentist I had to have a filling. The dentist had the needle in my gum when I heard him say ‘oops’. I find this anecdote quite amusing, merely because I would rather have a dentist who says ‘oops’ and corrects his mistake over one who thinks ‘fuck it’ and carries on anyway. Other people sound horrified when I tell them, though. They don’t understand what I mean.
I’m ambivalent towards waiting rooms these days. There’s always something wrong with them, but whenever you’re in a waiting room it’s a break from doing something in the real world. I get a lot of reading done. And writing, if no one is trying to read it.
When I received my copy of the diagnostic report, the psychiatrist noted that while I was sat in the waiting room my behaviour was normal and I was dressed appropriately.
I look like an ordinary person. That’s nice.